I’ve been studying Alex Chaloff’s music videos recently, as they’re incredible examples of live music captures. It’s a testament to his work that even though I’m taking notes on camera angles, lighting, and sound all the way through, I can’t help but get lost in the performances.
Part of breaking down these videos is figuring out how much it might cost to put together a production like this. That’s helpful for me as it puts my rates into context; it’s also helpful for my clients to understand what goes into creating a video at this level. Let’s start with a minimal shoot like this one:
There’s two parts to the cost of a production; rental costs and labor costs. Rental costs cover the equipment and the space, and labor covers the efforts of all the individuals involved. Whether you own the gear or you’re renting it directly, you’ll be charging about 5% of its value per day; let’s start there.
Continue reading “Breakdowns: How Much Does a Live Music Video Cost?”
I shoot with the Sony a7S II, and I’m really happy with the images it produces. Unfortunately, it’s also limited by a codec which restricts it to 8-bit, low data rate video capture. In the real world, this manifests as digital artifacts that reduce the resolution of your footage and make it harder to color grade. I use the process below to clean and smooth out my footage before editing, but I’d recommend this workflow for any 8-bit video or footage with visible noise.
Digital noise is one of the biggest obstacles to getting high-quality video. Whereas analog/film noise is more aesthetically pleasing (sometimes even sought after), digital noise looks cheap and pixelated. It’s a combination between the noise of your camera sensor (created by amplifying light, more prevalent at higher ISO values) and the artifacts created by the codec (created by compression, more prevalent at low data rates). A high-quality denoiser can make a world of difference on your footage; I’m using Neat Video, and I’ve been really impressed by its capabilities. Here’s a dramatic example (click here for full-size):
Continue reading “Digital Film: Cleaning Up 8-Bit Footage”
Codecs are one of the last things I wrapped my head around when I got into video; they’re not exactly an engaging subject, and all the technical terms you run into can be overwhelming. But as a Sony shooter it quickly became apparent that I needed to dive in and figure this out before it became a real limiting factor. I should preface this by saying that overall, I’m really happy with my a7S II’s. The full-frame sensor, lens system, dynamic range, and overall image quality have me sold. But no system’s perfect, and the weak point of Sony cameras has always been the codec. So let’s figure out how to work with it.
To put it simply, a codec is a file format. There’s a DVD codec, a Blu-Ray codec, a YouTube codec; all the media you watch has been encoded into a format that fits the playback system. Consumer codecs are fairly standardized, but when you’re on the professional side, there are a huge range of options to choose from (hence the confusion). Luckily, despite the vast number of individual codecs out there, the principles are pretty simple. Frame rate (frames per second) and resolution (number of pixels) are easy to understand, and both are set by the camera before you press record. The main factors controlled by the codec are bit rate and bit depth.
Continue reading “Digital Film: Understanding Codecs”
I’ve been using Adobe Premiere since I first started editing nearly ten years ago, and while it’s been gaining momentum as a professional editor, I’d always been curious about Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. With version 14 hot off the presses, I thought I’d dive in, give it a spin and see if it could replace Premiere as my go-to NLE. After 12 hours (straight), here are my thoughts:
Your ability to edit depends more on your familiarity with the NLE than the software itself, and as it’s a pretty standardized process, you won’t find major differences between programs. With both Premiere & Resolve, I was able to cut together a multicam within an hour or so of messing around; no need to open up a manual. But if you go beyond basic edits, Premiere shows its pedigree; its tools are more refined and offer more options for power users.
Continue reading “Editing Video: Resolve 14 vs. Premiere Pro CC”
The analog vs. digital debate is a topic unto itself, and I don’t have any interest in engaging that; I use analog tools where appropriate, and digital tools for the same reason. However, a little backstory is appropriate. When you’re recording entirely in the analog domain, every action you take loses you some high frequencies. Run it through a desk? Lose some HF. Run it through a compressor? Lose some HF. Record to tape? Bounce to tape? Play the tape? Lose some HF. Along the way, we got used to the tone that came from all those analog passes. Then along came digital, promising superior fidelity with no signal loss. Bad converters aside, the consensus? It’s “harsh,” cold,” and “brittle!” Digital, with all its superior fidelity, often seems to be missing a little charm.
These days we have the best of both worlds; if you want the sound of tape, tubes or transformers, you can record through tape, tubes and transformers without having to worry about signal loss down the road. I don’t have any nostalgia for low fidelity; however, there is something to the way analog gear handles high frequencies. I’m going to explore a couple of options for emulating that response with more precision. Continue reading “Digital Tape: Smoothing Out Tone”
Note: the following post makes use of Klanghelm VUMT and TDR Limiter 6. To get the most out of these posts, head over to their sites and support some awesome developers!
In our last post we covered how to apply analog gain-staging practices to melodic material. However, our ears respond much differently to percussive material, which is composed of transients instead of tones.
A PPM meter responds much more quickly to level changes, and as such it’s better suited to drums and percussion. Using VUMT, pull up a simple DIN meter and apply it to a snare or kick track. Adjust the pre-fader clip volume so that the needle is reading a little under 0.
Here’s an example of a snare track after I’ve adjusted the gain:
You’ll notice that while the hits are fairly consistent, there are couple hits around the 1/3rd mark that are much louder than the rest. In our last post, we dealt with this problem by manually adjusting the volume; while this is a completely valid approach, it’s not always an option to go through hundreds of hits by hand. Instead, let’s take an analog approach. Continue reading “Digital Tape: Gain-Staging Drums”
Note: the following post makes use of Klanghelm VUMT, an incredible plugin that costs about $15 USD. To get the most out of these posts, head over to the site and support an awesome developer!
Hugh Robjohns begins his article on VU & PPM meters with the following quote:
These are both, strictly speaking, obsolete analogue metering formats! In short, the VU meter shows an averaged signal level and gives an impression of perceived loudness, while a PPM indicates something closer to the peak amplitude of the input signal. However, in our modern digital world, neither meter really performs adequately.
He has a point; if you’re mastering for broadcast, you want a digital meter that’s able to respond with pinpoint accuracy. However, I’d like to focus on part of that quote:
The VU meter … gives an impression of perceived loudness.
While digital meters do a great job of letting you know if your signal is clipping, they don’t correlate much with what you’re actually hearing. One of the reasons people love mixing outside the box is that analog meters move the way the music does. So let’s set up some analog meters.
Klanghelm VUMT is my favorite meter plugin, and it has far more features than we’ll need today. For now, just bring it up as a simple VU meter and apply it to a vocal track. Adjust the track volume (pre-fader) in the DAW so that the meter is reading around 0VU for sustained vocal phrases. Continue reading “Digital Tape: Gain-Staging Vocals”
In my opinion, gain-staging is the most important step of the mix process. Properly preparing your audio sets the foundation for your mix; unfortunately, this step is often neglected or misunderstood. I’m starting a series of short articles on how to apply analog mixing practices to the digital domain, in the hopes of simplifying this fundamental process.
One of the biggest differences between analog and digital is the way the equipment responds to level. When recording through tape & tube equipment, there’s a sweet spot in the middle of the range where fidelity and signal-to-noise is optimized. Get the level too low and your signal gets lost in hiss; get the level too high and it’ll distort. 24-bit digital is an entirely different picture; get the level too low and it’s not much of a problem, as long as your peaks aren’t clipping. Compounding this problem is the fact that digital meters don’t do the best job of representing what we actually hear.
Because we’re not fighting for a smaller sweet spot, we tend to be more relaxed when it comes to gain-staging in the digital world. This is fine for recording, but it creates big problems when you enter the mix stage, because:
- if your levels aren’t consistent, your faders won’t be representative of the actual mix.
- if you have multiple tracks that are close to peaking, they’ll clip your master bus when combined.
- saturation, distortion, and analog-emulation plugins are level-dependent just like analog gear.
What we want is tracks whose levels are consistent in relation to each other, high enough to optimize signal-to-noise, low enough to leave plenty of headroom on the master bus, and gain-staged for use with analog emulations. How do we do this? Read on…
>> Digital Tape, Pt. 2: Gain-Staging Vocals
I’m a firm believer in using a small set of tools that you know inside & out, and this applies very strongly to my audio workflow. Rather than downloading massive plugin bundles, I’d highly recommend learning to work with just one DAW, one EQ, one compressor, and one reverb until you’re intimately familiar with the principles of each. 90% of my work is done with 4 very powerful pieces of software that I’ve listed below, and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who’s doing audio work at any level.
DAW // REAPER ($60)
Your DAW is your workflow, and workflow is the most important part of the mix process. I’ve been using REAPER for years, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for everything from editing podcasts & recording live shows to mixing & mastering studio albums. REAPER isn’t just cheaper than Pro Tools & Logic; in my opinion, it’s better. There are so many things I love about this DAW; free updates for life, incredible stability, fast & intuitive clip editing tools, flexible audio routing, great hardware integration, and perfect audio quality. I was able to use it competently after a few days of experimentation, but 2 years later I bought a hard copy of the manual and realized how many incredible features I hadn’t even discovered. Continue reading “Tips: Yes, You Can Mix for $500”
It took me a couple years to realize this, but you can buy audio software secondhand. Used software is the same as new software (for obvious reasons), but with a little patience you can buy your plugins for far less than their sticker price (usually about 50% off). Here’s a list of places where you can buy your licenses; all of these are reputable communities with checks & balances to make sure you’re not paying for pirated software.
As always, make sure to pay via PayPal. I’ve been buying from these forums for a few years now, and I’ve only had good experiences!